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WHO Urges Action to Stop Animal TB, Its Spread to Humans

FILE - Cows graze in a field in Vlezenbeek near Brussels, Belgium, Aug. 7, 2015. Veterinary authorities in Western countries routinely cull cattle infected with bovine tuberculosis whereas similar protocols are less prevalent in developing countries.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is urging action to stop the spread of tuberculosis from animals to humans. The health agency warns zoonotic TB, as it is called, infects about 150,000 people and kills more than 12,000 every year.

The WHO says TB in animals has been neglected for too long and it is time to put an end to that. So, for the first time, the organization is issuing a road map to combat animal tuberculosis and its transmission to humans.

Anna Dean, technical officer for Zoonotic and Drug Resistant Tuberculosis at the WHO, told VOA zoonotic TB is a global problem, with the disease thriving mainly in Africa and to a lesser extent in the Asia region.

“It is mainly transmitted to people through food; dairy products and milk that have not been heat-treated is the most common route. Less commonly, it can also be transmitted through the consumption of improperly prepared meat from diseased animals,” Dean said.

Besides posing a major risk to food safety and human health, the WHO notes bovine TB threatens people’s livelihoods and results in major economic and trade barriers.

Dean said the best way to eliminate bovine TB is to slaughter diseased animals. She says that is generally not a hardship for wealthy countries such as the United States, where cattle herders tend to be compensated for their lost animals. Dean pointed out that in other parts of the world, doing so poses a challenge.

“It is not the case obviously in African countries. To implement these animal health interventions requires a lot of economic - a lot of financial investment. So, I think to stop, to prevent TB in people, you need to first of all control the disease in animals,” she said.

Dean added that improving food safety, which can be easily done, is also essential. For example, she says, boiling untreated milk is enough to kill TB and other important bacteria that can cause illness in people.